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Readings Galore

31 Jul

I normally think of August as a sleepy month for zoning out and wandering into enormous spider webs, but this year, in Seattle, there are quite a few things happening, all of which are free. Here’s where I’ll be if you’d like to join:

*Thursday, August 7, 6 pm: ekFRANTICS, a reading of literature about imaginary art, with David Lasky and Arlo Smith at the Greg Kucera Gallery. This is being put on by the local press Babel/Salvage and coincides with the Pioneer Square Art Walk, one of my favorite art events in town. I’m reading selections from my novel-in-progress, Paralegal, about a 25-year-old visual artist who takes a job as a paralegal just before the economic crisis of 2008.

*Thursday, August 14, 7 pm: My Body is a Book of Rules launch at Richard Hugo House. My dear friend Elissa Washuta launches her debut memoir, which I happily pre-ordered yesterday. I can’t wait to get my hands on it and celebrate with her.

*Thursday, August 21, 7 pm: The Furnace Presents Chelsea Werner Jatzke at Hollow Earth Radio. Corinne Manning and I are launching the third (!) season of our quarterly reading series featuring one writer, reading one entire story, “with vigor.” Chelseas story is inspired by the Velvet Underground. Come see it live; it’s gonna be rad.

*Monday, August 25, 7 pm: Seattle Fiction Federation #1 at Richard Hugo House: Corinne is reading at this new series featuring fiction only. I’m excited for this new venue.

*Tuesday, August 26, 8 pm: Old Growth Northwest Reading & Opening Mic at the Jewel Box Theater: I’m a featured reader alongside Matthew Simmons and Melody Moberg. We’re all reading new work in response to the prompt “My first day on the job was much like my last,” plus something else of our choosing. Fun!

Then after a week in California for my best & oldest friend’s wedding, I’ve got one more very fun reading called Seattle Wage Slaves: Tales from the Grind, which features stories about work. I’m reading alongside Steve Barker, Sonora Jha, Michael Spence, and Wilson Diehl. That’s on Thursday, September 11 at 6:30 at Office Nomads. There will be spiked coffee and free donuts!

The Best AWP Ever

7 Mar

photo (9)Forgive my hyperbole, but I really enjoyed AWP this year. Maybe it was because this was the fourth I attended, so it was less overwhelming. Maybe it was because it was in Seattle, so I got to see so many friends and sleep in my own bed. Maybe it was because I had a chance to read alongside some really lovely writers. Maybe it was because I got to bring M to the book fair on Saturday and he made many tired exhibitors laugh. I *did* have violent heart palpitations the weekend before the conference as I stressed out over the three readings I had, but somehow these subsided by Tuesday, and by Thursday it was one big love fest. Here are some highlights.

Notes on the Practical

On Thursday I attended Kristen Young‘s panel Like Sand to a Beach: Bringing Your Book to Market. Jarrett Middleton of Dark Coast Press gave a really informative overview of the publishing process, especially when it comes to distribution. I had no idea how scary a pre-sales conference is (when a publisher pitches the merits of a title to all the big guns of a distributor and they try to poke holes in your marketing plan). I also didn’t know that a book has about 90 days or one quarter in a bookstore before it gets returned to the warehouse. Karen Maeda Allman of Elliott Bay Book Company gave the bookseller’s perspective. My favorite advice of hers about author events is to “invite everyone you know, encourage them to bring friends, and invite your ‘Kevin Bacon’ friend–the one who knows everyone.” All of her presentation slides are available on this beautiful Tumblr. Author Jonathan Evison emphasized building communities and taking the time to invite friends individually to your events rather than through mass emails. He also said, “Even if only six people come to your B & N event in south Austin, take the events coordinator to the Cheesecake Factory afterwards and get her drunk. She’ll keep selling your books.” Finally, Rachel Fershleiser of Tumblr gave an overview her experiences as a book publicist and of what she calls the “bookternet” — smart people being silly on the internet with sites like Last Night’s Reading.

A Controversial Panel

Friday morning I attended the panel Magic and Intellect. It was packed to the gills; magic must be popular! Something extraordinary occurred at this panel that so far one blogger I know of has recounted and it is worthwhile to read her account. I hope more people will write on it. I haven’t had the mind space to do so; I’m still processing. But I did come away from it feeling affirmed, that imaginative writing is necessary. Rikki Ducornet said, “The human mind & imagination cannot sustain itself in a constant state of emergency,” and Kate Bernheimer said, “Solutions in fairy tales often require radical acts. If you’re in an incestuous, abusive relationship, you might need to cut off your finger to use as a key to get out of a room.” And Rikki Ducornet offered this advice: “For a difficult book to be readable, ‘find a language that levitates somehow, that is scintillating'” (last quotation via Mackenzie Hulton on Twitter).

One Really Cool Thing from the Book Fair: Envisioning the Future of the Book

I cannot begin to describe the many, many books I acquired last week. So I will simply share one very cool thing, Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Book & Paper Expanded Artists’ Books. They displayed a hybrid artist book with heat-sensitive ink and an embedded iPad; if you pressed your hand on the page, different words erased and different words appeared on the iPad. What alchemy.

Readings Galore

I had the pleasure of reading fairy tales with Maya Sonenberg, Rikki Ducornet, and Valerie Arvidson. I was pleasantly surprised to see a fairly large room fill with people eager to hear stories. Somehow each of us included food in our stories–I hurriedly jotted the phrase “saffron buns and candied salmon” as Valerie read–and that made me immensely happy.

At Canoe Social Club, I read with Andrew Ladd, Michael Nye, and Wesley Rothman. I’d finished Andrew’s book What Ends Tuesday night and it had me sobbing by the end. In addition to making me think about the issues that got me crying, it got me thinking about the books that also made me cry like that–Sophie’s Choice, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn– so maybe I’ll write a separate post on that topic. I picked up Michael’s story collection Strategies Against Extinction; of course I will read the story “Sparring Vladimir Putin” first because obviously. I can’t wait. Wesley is working on a collection that may be called Sub-Woofer–keep your ears peeled!

Chris Abani and Chang-rae Lee did a wonderful reading and conversation. I already read The Secret History of Las Vegas (it’s powerful!), but hearing Chris read the opening and another section concerned with fairy tales gave me shivers.

I got to read with 13 others affiliated with the Univesity of Washington MFA and  the Cambridge Writers Workshop. We filled up Victrola’s back room and then most of us retired to Coastal Kitchen for drinks, snacks, and exquisite corpse. Coincidentally, I sat beside someone I’d only known through twitter and had no idea would be there. The future is now!

In the lovely subterranean Alibi Room, I got to see the UNC-Wilmington alumni reading, which featured several friends and which introduced me to the wonderful work of Rochelle Hurt and Kate Sweeney. You should check out their respective books, The Rusted City and American Afterlife. 

Finally, read Paul Constant’s take on the conference here, which includes high praise for my Furnace co-conspirator Corinne Manning and her Alice Blue chapbook “A Slow and Steady Eruption.” Hooray!

Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen

5 Feb

My latest book-review-in-bullet-points is up on the Ploughshares blog today. Here’s how it begins:

Genre: literary mystery
With reference to: Little House on the Prairie

And: immigrant lit & ethnic lit
And: restlessness vs. belonging
Also: Manifest Destiny & Utopia

continue reading

This will be my last book review for the next little while as I gear up for a *new* series of blog posts on writing prompts using art, architecture, and a whole slew of other sources of inspiration. The first post goes live on Sunday and posts will appear every 2 or 3 weeks. Stay tuned!

The Casserole Reading Series

18 Nov

Casserole-Anca-and-Andrew (1)Last night, I had a lovely time reading in Chelsea Kurnick’s YouTube-based reading series The Casserole. I read from my novel Dirty alongside Andrew Ladd, whose novel What Ends won the 2012 AWP award and will be published in January 2014 by New Issues Press and in August 2014 by Oneworld in the UK. As you’ll hear in the reading, Andrew’s writing is beautiful and the scope of his novel impressive and compelling. I’m looking forward to reading with him in person at our off-site event during the AWP conference in Seattle: Thursday, February 27, at 8 pm, at Eltana. Why Eltana? Well, Andrew and I met in a writing group in Montreal when we both attended McGill University. It’s nice to have a bit of Montreal in Seattle via the Montreal-style bagels of Eltana. Also, the space is lovely.

But, back to The Casserole. What a neat idea! Chelsea has also featured two other writer friends and co-conspirators of mine, Corinne Manning and Kristen Young. Corinne read a hilarious short story, “Professor M,” from her wonderful collection-in-progress. Watch for her forthcoming chapbook from Alice Blue Books‘ Shotgun Wedding Series, out later this fall, and read her gut-punching-beautiful novel excerpt in Drunken Boat. Kristen read an excerpt from her ambitious, layered novel Subductionwhich is ultimately about “wanting more than we have, longing to belong, and choosing, only to lament our choices.” Watch for an excerpt in the December issue of City Arts Magazine.

Here’s the video from my reading with Andrew:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RiqSDmNNNM

Some Day by Shemi Zarhin

8 Nov

ImageMy latest bullet-point book review is up on the Ploughshares blog. I’m so glad Ross Ufberg of New Vessel Press reached out to me about Shemi Zarhin’s novel Some Day and brought to my attention this new publishing house focused on translating foreign literature into English. I’m big on linguistic and literary diversity, border-crossing and mind-opening, and I’m looking forward to reading more books from New Vessel.

Tin House Writer’s Workshop 2013

7 Aug

Whew, July was busy. I went to the Tin House Writer’s Workshop for the first time, and I hope not the last. And I went to New York for a week after that (more in a subsequent post). There’s still a ton of information from the conference sifting through the crevices of my mind, but here’s a grab bag of favorites, with some bolded text and lots of links just for fun.

  • I studied with Benjamin Percey, who advised our short story workshop to “Grab [readers] by the throat and drag ‘em down the rabbit hole,” which might be my favorite writing advice, second only to “Forget the reuben. Focus on the ninjas.”
  • In a panel on publishing and Tin House, Rob Spillman advised, “Don’t send your work out when you’re feeling creative. Send it out when you’re feeling organized,” which is a useful reminder, and at the agent panel he called debut author advances “Capitalism at its scariest,” which is something that will lurk in a corner of my brain for a good long while.
  • On character, Jodi Angel said, “We don’t go to the page to make friends. We go to see something other and apart from who we are.”
  • Karen Russell gave a talk on the art of long sentences and how they can give an “occult sense of how another mind moves, from word to word.”
  • On place, Luis Urrea urged, “Don’t use place. Inhabit it. [....] You are a place. As a place, you must be a shame-free zone [....] Writing prompt: go out and rub dirt on your face.”
  • On time, Jess Walter suggested: if you’re stuck in a story, consider making the clock more specific.
  • Anthony Doerr‘s talk on failure ended with this.
  • Also, I fell in love with Dorothea Lasky. Her latest collection of poetry is Thunderbird.

Again and again, throughout the week, it seemed everyone suggested you should write the story that only you can write, that you should pay “ruthless and tender attention” (Steve Almond, there) to life. At least some of the talks will be available online sometime. In the meantime, here’s a link to podcasts from previous conferences

Dear Lucy by Julie Sarkissian

21 Jun

My bullet-point review of Julie Sarkissian’s debut novel Dear Lucy is up on the Ploughshares blog. Here’s how it begins:

Genre:literary fiction, debut.

Concerning: Lucy, a young woman whose different way of seeing and behaving has compelled her image-conscious, frustrated mother, Mum mum, to abandon her on a farm.

And: Samantha, a pregnant teenager on the same farm.

And: Missus and Mister, their caretakers. (And later, kidnappers of Samantha’s baby.)

And: two maybe-magical animals, namely, a talking baby chicken named Jennifer and a silent Yellow Eyed Dog.

Continue reading

***

In other news, I’ll be teaching at Richard Hugo House’s Write-O-Rama tomorrow. This will be the third time I’m pitching in for a fun day of mini-lessons and writing frenzies, with proceeds going to Hugo House. My mini-lesson will include reading Cynthia Ozick’s story “The Shawl” and thinking about how objects in fiction can take on tremendous power. Check out all the fabulous class descriptions here and come by tomorrow between 10 and 5!

Background Reading for a Novel-in-Progess

18 Apr

I’ve been feeling anxious about the many things I’m juggling at the moment, so I just did a “brain-dump,” hashing out my immediate deadlines and less imminent ones, projects where I owe work to others and projects where I owe work to myself, and when in the coming months I will be able to do that. This is something I do from time to time, but having just finished auditing the ArtistTrust EDGE program, I have a few more tips and resources under my belt, with healthy reminders about making time for the writing and valuing that work. I feel a lot better. Of my own projects, there are a handful of short stories that I want to develop further, a handful to submit (or continue submitting), and a general plan to arrange the collection (in hard copy, not in my mind, which I’ve pretty much done) in September.

Anxiety-reduction aside, the brain dump also got me excited about looking ahead to my second novel. I wrote a quick, rough sketch of about 115 pages last April and put it aside to simmer. I took a number of inspiring and invigorating classes at Hugo House in March, including Chris Abani‘s class on voice and Sam Lipsyte‘s class on keeping a story going. Now, I’m taking Peter Mountford‘s excellent class on narrative structure, and had a really productive workshop of my synopsis and first chapter. I’m looking forward to digging deeper into the main conflict of the story before I set out to rewrite with more intention. And I’m excited to keep reading novels that I think will feed this book. For my first novel, I read countless books. I wish I had kept a more careful list all in one place, but my notes are scattered over many notebooks, and it would take me some time to sift through the pages to put it all together. I pretty much read anything I could get my hands on that was from or about Argentina and seemed remotely related, as well as a number of books that used magic realism in some way similar to how I tend to write it. I’m trying to be more organized about my second novel.

So far, here are some of the works feeding into Novel # 2. If you have any recommendations that fit into the nodes developing here, feel free to leave a comment!

Not pictured: Grisham, Le Carre.

Pictured left to right: A Convergence of Birds, An Almost Perfect Moment, The Brooklyn Follies, The Map and the Territory, Bleak House, Billy Budd and Other Stories, Just Kids, The Emperor’s Children, A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, The Big Short, Lives of the Artists. Not pictured: some legal fiction by Grisham, some spy fiction by Le Carre.

Related posts:

  1. On Reading
  2. End of the Story
  3. Narcissus and Goldmund

Parking Signs to Power Lines

6 Mar

Last month, I took an afternoon class at Richard Hugo House with Shin Yu Pai called “Maps for a Narrative Atlas” to, as it were, tickle my psychogeographic fancy. After some discussion of Denis Wood’s Everything Sings and Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite CityShin sent us out into Capitol Hill to map some specific, observable aspect of the neighborhood and then try to transcribe what we found into text. I decided to focus on everything visible between parking signs and power lines, plus any sounds. I ended up with a catalogue of mostly tags and graffiti animals, an “urban bestiary” as one of the workshop participants noted (incidentally, this is a topic for another post I’ve been meaning to write as well as the title of a fascinating forthcoming book).

Here’s that catalogue.

E. Olive Street, from 11th Avenue to 12th Avenue

shoes

crows

propeller affixed to pole, swaying

crows

parking sign: Hellawasted, Action for Animals, sad ghost

bright yellow bits of a torn flier

crows

fuzzy green tree buds

Z overlaying U

Nasty Nate Comfy

faded blue outline of a skeleton

Lost Cat: Adult Male Mostly Black with a White Belly. Will Give Generous Reward if Found and Returned to Owner. Contact Arlene.

bright yellow flier, intact: Our Neighborhoods Under Attack! scary black towers descending upon single family homes with crash-pow comic book bursts

Notice of Public Meeting

fuzzy green tree buds

police car siren

12th Avenue

shoes

crows

guttural other-bird song; rattle and click

11th Avenue from Howell Street to E Olive

crows

parking sign: Hello My Name Is Nick Nack Records

4 hour parking sing: No Big Deal, smiling prehistoric fish with wings, Nasty Nate Comfy, Blink

children squealing

stick man with a briefcase and devil horns apparently going to hell

4 hour parking Valid Here: love birds

night owl with steaming cup of something

shoes

Town of Shadows

21 Dec

I’ve reviewed Lindsay Stern’s debut novella over at Ploughshares. Here’s how the review begins:

What: a debut prose-poem novella

Who: the eponymous town of shadows
And: its cast of shadowy characters, including a rug doctor, a lepidopterist, bureaucrats, a bodiless mayor speaking from a gramophone that sputters ash, a child with an hour glass and a white balloon who might be god, etc.

Where: mirrors, shadows, bell jars, and graves
When: see “where”

Continue reading

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